Transitioning to Voice 2.0: Is Microsoft Becoming the Elephant?

Alec Saunders, of iotum, Talk Now and Voice 2.0 Manifesto fame, has written one of his high level overview posts, Aikido, Retreat or War. What’s Your Microsoft Strategy? Alec brings a unique perspective to the table because he has moved from being a program manager within Microsoft when their real time communications strategy was in its infancy several years ago to one who must now find his way in a real time communications space threatened by Microsoft dominance. His key thesis is that, as we transition to a Voice 2.0 world where applications are king, Microsoft, with its software heritage, is best positioned, both culturally and resource-wise, to provide the key infrastructure software for a communications world connected solely by “pipes” with the intelligence at the end points.

Before I could fully understand his thesis, I had to Google Aikido. OK, I’m quite familiar with Judo and Karate, but Aikido? Turns out to be a good choice:

Aikido focuses not on punching or kicking opponents, but rather on using their own energy to gain control of them or to throw them away from you.

O Sensei [the developer of this martial art] emphasized the moral and spiritual aspects of this art, placing great weight on the development of harmony and peace. “The Way of Harmony of the Spirit” is one way that “Aikido” may be translated into English.

Having spoken earlier this week with Kyle Marsh, Microsoft’s Unified Communications program manager, Alec outlines how Microsoft is quietly but gradually building itself to become a key infrastructure player in the real time communications space. Not only within the enterprise sector but also in the embedded and mobile sectors. (Andy does like to remind us occasionally that Cisco and Microsoft are at odds.) Alec then goes on to outline three alternative strategies to avoid becoming roadkill in this environment:

  • Aikido: launching a complementary business that’s “in harmony” with Microsoft yet leverages their momentum
  • Building vertical market applications, or
  • War: being the second or third player in the market.

He then outlines iotum’s Aikido strategy, positioning itself within a gap created by Microsoft’s momentum. As evidenced in practice by Talk Now’s links to, yet independence from, the Blackberry in its role as a key presence infrastructure tool, their Relevance Engine has the potential to become “the central, global presence platform for converged networks”.

So where does Skype enter into this picture? What is their “Microsoft strategy” in this scenario? Skype already provides the basic tools for effective real time conversations; simplicity of implementation and operation is one of its most effective features. As Alec states, Microsoft’s long term game involves Office integration to their communications platforms. We see the beginnings of Skype’s Office integration with its Email Toolbar for Outlook and Office Toolbar. We see Extras partner Netralia’s Skylook now being offered in the Extras Gallery as “MS Outlook Office Integration”. And Pamela 3.5 provides some Outlook integration. Certainly all of these could integrate into a global presence platform that invokes New Presence.

Are these types of offerings that enhance the user experience sufficient for Skype’s prosumer and SMB markets? Or do these markets need the overhead and complexity of Microsoft’s Unified Communications software platforms to achieve their business goals and profitability? Underlying all these considerations is also the need to build an infrastructure that has the five nines (99.999%) reliability of the current PSTN.

While these applications definitely reinforce the role of software in real time communications from another player outside Microsoft, only the evolution of accepted consumer usage and business practices will provide the final answer. As Alec states: “Microsoft’s plan is a 10 to 15 year view of the market, which is only starting to be visible today.”

Alec started his conclusion by quoting a summary statement in my recent Interruption Manifesto and I stick with the statement as a final thought here:

Bottom line: I want to be able to participate in the conversations essential to my lifestyle and my business operations – when, where and how I choose.

About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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